Audio Monitors, Wohler Asia, broadcast industry
Like many industries in this difficult economic climate, the broadcast industry is being challenged to accomplish a wider range of core tasks using less equipment, a lower budget and fewer people. At the same time, however, customers are demanding an increase in the quantity and quality of products that they receive at a lower price point. This never-ending cycle facilitates the supply-and-demand growth engine for vertically designed products, or all-in-one products.
Market demands today dictate that broadcast products evolve toward highly flexible, comprehensive integrated solutions requiring minimal initial capital expenditure and small incremental upgrade/expansion costs over the extended lifetime of the product. Audio monitors are an example of one such product segment, as they recently have undergone a total vertical transformation.
Audio monitors traditionally have been simple yet reliable products used at the end of the chain solely for monitoring one type of audio format at a time. Since the inception of rack-mount audio monitors in approximately 1987, little has changed with regard to their functionality, other than keeping up with the introduction of new audio formats such as AES, SDI embedded and Dolby.
Now, in a very different business landscape, next-generation audio monitors are fully capable of incorporating a host of advanced integrated features and functions, including a video monitor, and numerous system-centric features.
Next-generation audio monitors borrow almost nothing from their predecessors except for their rack-mount chassis and front-panel-mounted speakers. Such audio monitoring products play to the strengths of system integrators’ and end users’ knowledge and, in particular, their ability to work with an off-the-shelf product that can be customised quickly from both a hardware and a user interface standpoint to meet the specific needs of each unique broadcast environment.
For starters, the units employ a common high-speed-bus motherboard that incorporates a number of slots for audio and video cards that bring all audio signals into the digital domain. The modularity of this design allows customers to purchase cards in a mix-and-match style, when and as they need them. Modular audio monitoring units have an advantage over older fixed-style hardware, as they can be upgraded at any time. Their modularity also ensures that the units will not become obsolete; as new audio formats are developed, new cards also will be introduced.
The mixing and matching of cards also makes it possible for the systems integrator or end-user to achieve the exact configuration desired rather than investing in one or more fixed hardware products that have too little or too much functionality and become obsolete upon the industry’s acceptance of new signal formats.
In addition to being modular, next-generation monitoring units are more robust than earlier models. All-in-one units allow for simultaneous audio/video confidence monitoring with up to 16 channels of simultaneous multiformat audio level metering, as well as flexible loudness indication. The major functionality incorporated into next-generation audio monitors can also include video monitoring, audio mixing and routing, audio swapper/level adjustment, programmable fixed/variable line outputs and loudness measurement/control.
An integrated audio mixer is perfectly suited to function as a general-purpose mixer that can, in many instances, replace a traditional audio mixer. An added advantage of today’s integrated solutions is that their compact rack-mount design does not require an external control panel and speakers. Because the units also can monitor outputs, the operator has the ability to monitor inputs and outputs continuously and simultaneously. This function commonly is used for voiceovers and mixing of background tracks in space-constrained environments.
The incorporated audio routing functionality of new audio monitoring systems, coupled with their mix-and-match format cards, is an extremely powerful combination that allows users to convert virtually any audio format to any other audio format. This capability eliminates the need for external conversion equipment such as A-D and D-A converters and muxes and demuxes, whose cost can outweigh the cost of the actual audio monitor, not to mention the system design, cabling installation, weight, power, spares and service issues that result from the increased product usage.
An all-in-one audio monitor’s built-in router also permits routing of any input or output to the front-panel meters or physical outputs. Thus, the user can monitor and/or mix any format in any order. When the mixer function is in use, master gain outputs can be monitored and controlled directly from the front panel. Audio swapping and level adjustments are practical extensions of audio mixing and routing functionality.
Swappers are commonly used in transmission, pass through, incoming lines and contribution record areas. Programmable fixed or variable line outputs provide for master gain control and/or direct speaker matrix control from the front panel. Outputs can be programmed to mirror the front panel meter channels, making monitoring with external speakers seamless.
With loudness quickly becoming an issue in markets around the world, many next-generation audio monitors have made the leap to incorporate loudness processing. Integration of loudness monitoring and control inside the modular unit greatly increases the benefits and value to the customer by eliminating all the external associated equipment. Loudness processing typically is used for pass-through channels, incoming contribution recording, satellite channels and transmission areas.
The extremely flexible and compact nature of such audio monitors makes them highly adept in all environments, allowing users to tailor the product to their exact monitoring/mixing requirements on the fly. Frequent deployments include OB units, portable production systems, studios, MCRs, CARs, headends, cable stations, satellite stations and fixed production facilities. Other uses include live-on-air turnaround-channel video/audio monitoring with audio processing, on-air loudness processing, control room speaker matrix control, line recording video/audio monitoring with audio processing, satellite link video/audio monitoring with audio processing, backup master control video/audio monitoring with audio processing, and on-air audio swapping/mixing.
As the industry and its requirements continue to change, whether as a result of economic forces, consumer demand, or other factors, today’s highly versatile audio monitors will adapt to provide additional audio and video functionality.